I have been privileged to work for the New Mexico Legislature over the last several sessions. I was a legislative analyst for the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Los Alamos’ Sen. Richard Martinez.
This committee comprises some of the most experienced Senators and is known for its critical consideration of bills based on sound policy, consistency with existing statutes, and constitutionality.
What does an analyst do? Not all are attorneys, some are subject matter experts. Each legislative committee and the two parties have analysts during the session, and the Legislative Counsel Service has full-time staff who draft legislation year-round from a neutral perspective.
As an attorney I review proposed bills for legality and constitutionality. I research policy alternatives and legal precedents, and determine whether the proposed changes conflict with existing statutes. Research often includes looking at other states and national foundations for broad trends in legislation such as the bipartisan national Criminal Justice Reform movement. I meet with citizen advocates, lobbyists, legislators, and other analysts to discuss particular bills.
These last few years have been marked by conflict between the parties, and between legislators from both parties and the Governor. The tempo and atmosphere during the first few sessions that I worked was fast, furious and turbulent. Democrats and Republicans were often at odds with the Governor’s proposals and general political philosophy and little was accomplished. Lawmakers looked for ways to by-pass the Governor’s veto power by proposing constitutional amendments instead of statutes, such as an increase in the State’s minimum wage.
This session has seen a change of pace. There is wide recognition that the situation of New Mexico at or near the bottom of every list is the result of decades of failed policies and new approaches are necessary.
Several bipartisan initiatives have developed to address education, drug policy, and criminal justice reform. Interim committees have been working up new proposals. I hope that these signs of cooperation will carry forward next year.
Editor’s Note: Christine Chandler is vice chair of the Los Alamos County Council and candidate in the Democratic primary for the New Mexico House of Representative for District 43 – Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Sandoval counties.